Scarce creatures remembered forever by camera

And backgrounds of black or white ensure they each take center stage

Staff writerMarch 23, 2013 

  • CANADA LYNX

    Scientific name: Lynx Canadensis.

    Description: 3 feet long, 17 to 30 pounds.

    Range: Boreal forests of Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. Found often in Washington, Montana, Minnesota and Maine.

    Diet: Mostly snowshoe hares but also small mammals such as mice, squirrels, voles, foxes and grouse.

    Life span: Up to 15 years.

    Status: Threatened.

    GOPHER SNAKE

    Scientific name: Pituophis melanoleucus.

    Description: 70 to 106 inches long.

    Range: Mainly in western, southern and southeastern United States.

    Diet: Rodents, small rabbits and birds; young gopher snakes also eat small lizards.

    Life span: 10 to 20 years in captivity.

    Status: Secure.

    GYRFALCON

    Scientific name: Falso rusticolus.

    Description: Largest of all falcons, weighing 2 to 5 pounds with a 4-to-4.5-foot wingspan.

    Range: They breed in arctic and sub-arctic regions of Eurasia and North America; winter throughout Canada, northern United States, northern and central Europe, central Russia, northern China and northern Japan.

    Life span: About 12 to 15 years in the wild; 18 to 25 years in captivity.

    Status: Protected in North America. Restricted from importing and exporting for commercial purposes.

There are challenges to photographing wild animals on formal backgrounds.

A Canada lynx might prefer to lie on shaded cement rather than the desired backdrop. A golden eagle may be uncomfortable with all the attention and frantically flap his wings. Giant African millipedes might leave trails of poop across the pristine white backdrop.

In the end, though, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore snapped intimate photos of them all Friday, preserving their images in a Photo Ark project meant to document the 6,000 or so species captive in North American zoos.

After his visit to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Sartore will add seven critters to the array, bringing his total to more than 2,800 animals. It will take a few weeks for the Point Defiance photos to be added to the online project.

“We want to get people thinking about what it means to lose these species,” Sartore said.

Sartore arrived at the zoo Friday afternoon with plans to shoot four creatures. Improvisation took over once his luggage — including his lighting equipment and tent used to house smaller animals during photo shots — missed the second leg of his flight from Nebraska.

Luckily it was a sunny day in Tacoma and he could rely on natural light to get started with Sushi, the fishing cat, (one of only two in U.S. zoos) and Yukon, the Canada lynx.

Yukon, who was hand-raised at Point Defiance starting at 5 weeks of age, had moderate interest in the goings-on. Inside an enclosure behind Wild Wonders Theater, he poked around at a remote camera and tried to sniff Sartore before plopping down in a corner.

To lure him onto the white backdrop, keepers used drops of deer urine and urine-covered shavings from the porcupine pen.

It worked. Yukon briefly stood cooperatively on the board, rubbing his face in the new smells, as Sartore repeatedly clicked his camera.

Then the rest of his equipment showed up, and the effort could be completed.

All animal images for the Ark are shot on white or black backdrops.

“It makes a mouse as important as a polar bear. It makes a lynx as important as a beetle,” Sartore explained. “It’s a way to equalize and show that all animals are worth saving.”

Sartore also snapped photos of Zephyr, a golden eagle; Granite, a gopher snake; Mariah, a gyrfalcon; about 50 giant African millipedes; a house mouse; and the ferocious water beetle.

“Those animals will become ambassadors for their species,” Sartore said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@ thenewstribune.com

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